To hear Navy Petty Officer Stephen C. Jones tell it, what happened in his bedroom one night last month was purely innocuous: Another male sailor came by to watch "The Vampire Diaries," and they both dozed off in the same bed. "That is the honest, entire story," Jones said.
Navy officials, however, have a different view of his bedroom behavior at the Naval Nuclear Power Training Command, near Charleston, S.C. Even though there is no evidence the 21-year-old sailor committed any hanky-panky or that his friend was not permitted to visit, Jones has been charged with dereliction of duty. The Navy is seeking to discharge him, a move that he is contesting.
"The subterfuge is, they believe this kid is a homosexual, but they have no proof of it," said Gary Myers, Jones's civilian attorney. "So what they've done here is to trump this thing up as a crime. This is not a crime."
In December, President Obama signed legislation that will eventually allow gays and lesbians to serve openly in the ranks for the first time. But the law will not take effect until 60 days after Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates and other officials formally certify to Congress that the military is ready to fully integrate gays and lesbians.
In the meantime, the Pentagon has effectively frozen many pending investigations into whether individual service members are gay. A Defense Department spokeswoman said Pentagon officials have not approved the discharge of anyone for violating "don't ask, don't tell" since at least October.
But some gay rights advocates have questioned whether individual commanders opposed to the new law might try to subvert it by pressing other disciplinary charges against people they suspect of being gay.
"It's been the case for years that commanders had at their disposal the means to chapter someone out of the military for something other than homosexual conduct," said Alexander Nicholson, executive director of Servicemembers United, a group that pushed for an end to the "don't ask, don't tell" law. "If you want to get rid of somebody, you can always find something to punish them for.
Jones, who under current policy cannot say whether he is gay, has been charged with a vague transgression: "willful failure to exhibit professional conduct" in his bachelor enlisted quarters.
Military official declined to comment on Jones's case, citing privacy rules. But Thomas Dougan, a spokesman for the Naval Nuclear Power Training Command, denied that officials were discharging anyone based on sexual orientation.
In an e-mailed statement, he noted that it is the Defense Department's policy "not to ask service members or applicants about their sexual orientation, to treat all members with dignity and respect, and to ensure maintenance of good order and discipline."
According to the Navy's investigative summary of the episode, the trouble started shortly after midnight on Feb. 6, when Jones's roommate, Tyler Berube, returned from an out-of-town trip.
As he opened the door, Berube saw Jones "asleep in bed with another male sailor," according to a statement that Berube gave to investigators. Berube stated both were wearing only boxer shorts but got dressed and left after he woke them up.
The father who fought the God Hates Fags church all the way to the US supreme court after his son’s funeral was picketed has said that someone will get shot if the church resumes its action.
Earlier this week, by a majority of eight to one, the supreme court ruled that the church has the right to picket the funerals of US soldiers killed abroad by relying on their First Amendment rights to free speech. The group target dead soldiers because they claim that army casualties are a punishment from God for homosexuality being legal in the United States.
“Something is going to happen,” Albert Snyder, father of Matthew Snyder, a Marine lance corporal killed in Iraq whose funeral was picketed told CNN yesterday. “Somebody is going to get hurt.”
He added:”You have too many soldiers and Marines coming back with post-traumatic stress syndrome, and they [the God Hates Fags protesters are going to go to the wrong funeral and the guns are going to go off.”
“And when it does, I just hope it doesn’t hit the mother that’s burying her child or the little girl that’s burying her father or mother. It’s inevitable.” He added that the judgement lacked “common sense”.
The church believes that God is punishing America for tolerating homosexuality by killing soldiers in conflict abroad.
Matthew Snyder’s father was originally awarded compensation of $11m following the church’s picket. This was reduced to $5m, before the award was annulled altogether because of the church’s constitutional right to voice its conviction.
The tactics employed by the organisation were described by their detractors as “psychological terrorism”.
While numerous organisations have condemned the church’s messages, many have been forced to recommend that their rights are upheld for fear of creating a precedent at odds with the concepts of freedom of expression.
Matt Damon joins growing list of celebrities who are turning their backs on the President
Adds Obama's policies on education to list of grievances
Other A-listers like Barbra Streisand and Robert Redford have turned their back on him over issues like gay rights and energy change
Actor Matt Damon - who was one of the President's earliest and best-known celebrity supporters during his 2008 campaign - said point blank that he was unhappy with the way the country is being run in an interview with Piers Morgan last night.
He also slammed the President for failing to follow through on many of his campaign promises, particularly on education.
Interview: Damon voiced his disappointment over the way Obama has been running the country to Piers Morgan, particularly in terms of education
U-turn: The Oscar winner was a huge and very outspoken fan of Obama during his 2008 presidential campaign but now said he 'misinterpreted his mandate'
During the interview on CNN, the actor talked about his feelings on the first two years of Mr Obama's administration, among other things.
When asked if he was happy about the way he is running the country, Damon, without hesitation, said 'no', continuing: 'I really think he misinterpreted his mandate. A friend of mine said to me the other day, which I thought was a great line, "I no longer hope for audacity".
Supporter: The Bourne Identity actor, seen right with an Obama pin on his chest, has withdrawn his support of the President over turning his back on policies
'He's doubled down on a lot of things, going back to education... the idea that we're testing kids and we're tying teachers salaries to how kids are performing on tests, that kind of mechanized thinking has nothing to do with higher order. We're training them, not teaching them.'
During the 2008 Presidential campaign, the actor and Oscar-winning screenwriter was a vocal Obama supporter, campaigning for him at rallies, promoting him through a MoveOn video contest and attending fundraisers for him.
This is not the first time Damon has criticized Obama.
WHAT THEY SAID - BEFORE AND AFTER
2008: 'It is very important for me to do what I can to help the Obama campaign so people will go out and vote.'
2011: 'I really think he misinterpreted his mandate and has doubled down on a lot of things.'
2008: 'I’m riding my man Obama. I think he’s a visionary.'
2010: 'He has shown no emotion on the issue, if there is one time to go off this is it!' On his handling of the BP oil spill.
2008: 'Barack has awakened in many of us the notion that we can again be hopeful.'
2010: 'I would have liked to have him use his executive privilege … to get rid of something like "don't ask, don't tell".'
2008: 'Obama embodies the sort of change America needs.'
2010: 'The Gulf disaster is more than a terrible oil spill, it's the product of a failed energy policy... Tell President Obama to lead America toward a clean-energy future.'
2008: 'I'm behind Obama, it's time for a change.'
2010: 'Tell him to get out of the wars. we are going through the same thing as Vietnam right now.'
Last year, the actor told reporters he was 'disappointed' and 'a little let down' by the president's leadership - but he was quick to add that Obama deserved 'more time' to work on things.
He also said: 'I'm disappointed in the health care plan and in the troop build up in Afghanistan.
'Everyone feels a little let down because, on some level, people expected all their problems to go away.
'But real change comes from everyday people. You can't wait for a leader.'
Damon is only one more A-lister in a long line of Hollywood stars who have publicly trashed the President on everything from Guantanamo Bay to gay rights.
Barbra Streisand, a prominent Democratic donor, told Larry King that she thought the President should have been more aggressive on certain issues, singling out his slow progress in overturning the 'don't ask, don't tell' ban on gay people serving in the military.
Robert Redford appeared in an ad for the Natural Resources Defence Council urging Mr Obama to show more leadership on energy issues, and in a piece for the Huffington Post, he slammed him for not doing more to press Congress on clean energy.
Glee's Jane Lynch also criticised Obama's handling of gay rights calling him a 'huge disappointment'.
She said: 'We thought the great hope of Obama was going to magically change all that.
'He's just nicely walking the middle.'
Hugh Hefner said he was upset that the President had not done more to end the war in Afghanistan.
He said: 'We're going through the same thing as Vietnam right now. We can't please the world, and all we do is make enemies. We go in with the best possible intentions, but we make enemies.'
Andreas Deja says Disney may be open to featuring gay families in their
Andreas Deja, award-winning veteran animator for Disney, has suggested the company would be open to featuring both openly gay characters and gay families in future projects.
Mr Deja, who is gay and worked on The Lion King, Aladdin and Beauty and the Beast said to News.com.Au:
“Is there ever going to be a family that has two dads or two mums? Time will tell. I think once they [Disney chiefs] find the right kind of story with that kind of concept, they will do it. It has to be the right kind of story and you have to find that first.”
Despite Disney’s conservative reputation, Disney World and Disneyland host annual Gay Day parades and last year the studio appointed Hollywood’s first openly gay studio chief, Rich Ross.
Polish-born Mr Deja also pointed out to the website that various Disney characters come from unconventional family set-ups, referring to Cinderella’s step-family, the orphaned Bambi or Aladdin growing up on the streets.
Though he added: “We are going to stay with family audiences and basically continue to do what Walt Disney tried to do.”
Pixar Studios, a subsidiary of Disney, last year featured LGBT members of their animation teams in a series of “It Gets Better”videos, which seek to offer hope to LGBT teenagers.
John Shearer/Getty Images; PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images
You diss a pregnant woman, you're gonna be taken to task. Ditto if you dare say a bad word about America's reigning sweetheart. Or the newly crowned Oscar winner. And if you should err so badly that you somehow manage to slam the one woman who encompasses all those things at once…well, your name is probably Mike Huckabee.
After blastingNatalie Portman for supposedly glamorizing and glorifying single motherhood (never mind that she has a committed fiancé in Benjamin Millepied) and sending a "troubling" and "distorted" message to our nation's youth, the former Republican governor is in full backtrack mode.
"I was asked about Oscar winner Natalie Portman's out-of-wedlock pregnancy," he explained on his blog, Huck PAC. "Natalie is an extraordinary actor, very deserving of her recent Oscar and I am glad she will marry her baby's father. However, contrary to what the Hollywood media reported, I did not 'slam' or 'attack' Natalie Portman, nor did I criticize the hardworking single mothers in our country."
At least, not unless you count this as a criticism: "Most single moms are very poor, uneducated, can't get a job, and if it weren't for government assistance, their kids would be starving to death and never have healthcare," which is what Huckabee said during a radio interview earlier this week that hit the mainstream media last night.
Huckabee clearly does not consider his comment as a slight, because he repeated himself, almost verbatim, in his clarification.
"My comments were about the statistical reality that most single moms are very poor, under-educated, can't get a job, and if it weren't for government assistance, their kids would be starving to death," he wrote. "That's the story that we're not seeing, and it's unfortunate that society often glorifies and glamorizes the idea of having children out of wedlock."
So far Portman has chosen to stay above the fray; her rep did not immediately comment on either Huckabee's original comments or his blog post.
Of course, his point could just as easily have been made—and more aptly, as far as those stats go—by citing, say, Bristol Palin, who is working for a two-year degree and has no relationship with her baby daddy, instead of Natalie Portman, the Harvard graduate who is planning on marrying hers.
Add Mariah Carey to the list of performers giving away Muammar Qaddafi-tainted money.
The singer egg-facedly acknowledged Thursday what a Wikileaks post had alleged a few weeks ago, that she was paid $1 million to sing four songs for the Libyan leader's son at a party in the Caribbean in 2006.
"I was naive and unaware of who I was booked to perform for," Carey, 40, says in a statement. "I feel horrible and embarrassed to have participated in this mess."
A mess that has become intolerable only recently, apparently, because the Libyan leader is currently busy gunning down his own people.
The New York Daily News reported Carey would counter the tainted gig by donating the proceeds from a new song "Save the Day" for unspecified "human rights issues."
She joins Nelly Furtado and Beyoncé, who have admitted to performing for Qaddafi and announced plans to rectify it. Furtado said she has since donated her $1 million sum to charity, and Beyoncé said Wednesday she had donated her sum in 2009 to earthquake relief efforts in Haiti.
Still to address the matter are Qaddafi faves Usher and 50 Cent.
The U.S. Army Wednesday notified Pfc. Bradley Manning, a prime suspect in the WikiLeaks case, that he now faces 22 more charges in connection with allegedly downloading secret information from computers in Iraq.
The most serious new charge alleges that he aided the enemy by making this information public. That charge is punishable by death. A news release from the Army said the prosecution team "has notified the defense that the prosecution will not recommend the death penalty," but technically it is up to the commander overseeing the case to make the final decision about the death penalty.
All told, Manning, a military intelligence analyst from Oklahoma, now faces a total of 34 charges in the case, including:
-- Wrongfully causing intelligence to be published on the internet
-- Theft of public records
-- Transmitting defense information
-- Transferring classified data onto his personal computer
-- Disclosing classified information concerning the national defense.
Manning's lawyer, David Coombs, would not comment on the new charges, but posted a statement on his blog Wednesday evening:
"Over the past few weeks, the defense has been preparing for the possibility of additional charges in this case."
U.S. military officials have said that Manning is the prime suspect in the leak of many thousands of classified documents that ended up on the WikiLeaks website. However, WikiLeaks is not mentioned in the charge sheets.
Last August, Coombs said he'd seen no evidence tying Manning to the WikiLeaks case.
Even though the investigators filed the new charges, there are still several legal steps that would be taken before any decision will be made on which charges, if any, Manning would actually face in a court-martial.
One of those steps involves determining Manning's mental capacity. That step is expected to take two to six more weeks.
Manning is currently being held in the brig at Quantico Marine Base south of Washington, D.C. There has been a push by friends and supporters to have the rules about his confinement conditions eased. They say his confinement, in a one-man cell with only one hour a day outside of the cell for exercise, is unfair.
Greg Congdon spent this past New Year's Eve alone in bed reading, a diet Pepsi in one hand and his Kindle in another. By his side were his two beloved huskies, Sasha and Tasha.
"I had the TV on with the [Times Square] ball dropping, reading my Kindle," Congdon said. "Peace and quiet, no trouble, no drama. It was pretty good for me."
Greg Congdon at home with Sasha
Congdon was reading "Rounding Third," a coming-of-age novel by Walt G. Meyer that deals with two high school baseball players who fall in love. The book took Congdon back to his days as a high school athlete coping with his sexuality. He couldn't put the book down, and was then thrown a curveball when one of the novel's protagonists attempts suicide by downing a bottle of pain pills. Just like Congdon did when he was 17.
"Here I am at 2 a.m. and that [reading about suicide attempt] hit like a ton of bricks," Congdon, 30, said. The author "could have warned me at least," he jokes. He had struck up a friendship with Meyer, the author, years ago and "Rounding Third" uses incidents that have happened to gay teens; Congdon is acknowledged in the book's forward.
Congdon's mellow New Year's Eve is in stark contrast to years past, when he would get blind drunk nearly every night. It was his way of self-medicating and dealing with his past.
Outed against his will
In the annals of athletes coming out, Greg Congdon is Exhibit A of how it can go horribly wrong. In 1998, threats forced him from school and from the two sports he loved playing - wrestling and football - and he was estranged from his friends in Troy, Pa., a small town in rural north-central Pennsylvania.
Dan Woog wrote the definite account of Congdon's outing, but here is the condensed version: Unable to cope with being gay, he attempts suicide and discloses at the hospital that he is gay; it is written on his medical chart. A nurse sees the chart and tells her son, the quarterback of Greg's high school team. The quarterback then tells everyone at school and Congdon's life becomes hell as he is shunned by teammates, classmates and coaches.
After his mother pulls him from school, his story gets picked up by the gay media, which leads to big-time interviews with ESPN, HBO and appearances on talk shows like "Phil Donahue." Congdon is suddenly thrust into the role of gay athlete spokesman, something he is clearly not ready for. After posting a rant on the Outsports Discussion Board in 2004 (in which, among other things, he came out against gay marriage), he disappears from public life and finds solace in alcohol. He resurfaced on the Discussion Board in late February by apologizing for his rant in a post titled "How I fell off the face of the Earth." My interview with him is his first in nine years.
Solace in rum and Coke
"I never expected to be a spokesman," he said. "Everything happened too fast. I never had time to sit down and just think about it all. And when I did sit down to think about, that's when the bitterness came. And then I was getting e-mails from teens who were going through similar situations. It was a feeling of anger, bitterness and being powerless.
"And then I started going to parties and started drinking. Once I started drinking I realized that gets rid of those feelings pretty quick.
"Then drinking at parties became drinking every other night. Then drinking every other night became drinking every night. I would start drinking at 7 at night and go to bed at 3 a.m., wasted. Always drinking rum and Coke. I would drink a liter [of rum] a night."
This went on for five years and not even a DUI conviction following a single-car crash in 2002 could deter him. The drinking, he thought, acted as a lubricant in his relationships.
"A lot of my problems with relationships is that I have a hard time opening up and I don't allow anyone that close to me. The only way I really opened up is if I was drunk because that would make me vulnerable. When I'm sober I would put up a huge barricade and not let anyone close."
Drinking made him happy, he added, so "I didn't see any harm in it at the time."
Changing his life
His last relationship ended two years ago, and Congdon realized he needed a change. He has a good job at General Revenue Corp. in Elmira, N.Y., as a debt collector for people who have defaulted on student loans. He still lives in Troy and is very close to his family. "My mom once told my sister that I bring home better-looking guys than she ever did," he jokes.
He has devoted himself to simpler pleasures, like reading, music, Penn State football, photography, collecting antique Hawkes glass and his two dogs - which he calls divas and better than boyfriends because "they don't talk back and they don't cheat." He is also thinking about getting back into competitive archery, a sport his family excels at. He has stopped drinking, weighs the same he did as an undersized high school center (145 pounds at 5-11) and is now such a lightweight that a glass of wine this past Christmas Eve caused him to fall asleep.
While scars have healed from his high school years, their memories still remain fresh. In the almost 13 years since he left school, Congdon has not talked to any of his former teammates who harassed and hounded him for being gay. And there is clearly a longing and love of the sports that were so important to him growing up.
"Sports made me happy. And when that was taken away I didn't really find a replacement. And that's when I started drinking," he said. "I replay games in my head, or wrestling matches in my head. Once you're an athlete you never forget it, and you're always replaying it in your mind."
Congdon still hears from teenagers who are coping with their sexual orientation. Two years ago, someone on YouTube posted a video of his HBO appearance (since removed) and there was an outpouring of e-mails, most of them from teens.
"I would have thought that everyone would have forgotten me by now because I'm pretty sure I would have forgotten myself by now," he said.
"Some of them want words of encouragement to come out. I always say, be true to yourself, come out when you're ready. Sometimes it's better to take baby steps and make sure you have sure footing than taking a giant leap and falling on your ass. Trust me, I know, I think I was taking giant leaps back then and sometimes I think I still have the bruises on my ass."
Despite the pain he went through as a high school athlete, Congdon thinks times are changing and boldly predicts an NFL player will come out in five years. He bases this on what he calls a mindset change among coaches and athletes, especially gay teens "who are having more confidence to be themselves."
He's changed his mind on the issue of gay marriage, and sees it as one key part in getting society to accepting gays and lesbians.
"My biggest mistake when I was young and doing the interviews, being naïve, I thought the gay rights movements should have been more focused on the youth and the suicides that were going on. And I basically came out against gay marriage, saying it was a back-burner issue. But now that I am older, I realize how important it is. I don't plan on getting married any time soon. But I see how it is an important issue and how it could improve situations in high school. Whatever issue you take on could help another issue down the road."
"What would help more -- if a gay sports athlete came out or if high schoolers came out first and other players played with them and got used to the idea of having a gay athlete? It doesn't really matter. Either way it would help each other's situation. Yes, we're all dying for that pro athlete to come out, but it's gonna happen."
There is still some regret that comes through when talking with Congdon, who thinks he "was given a golden opportunity to lead and kind of blew it." But, then again, he never had a coming out on his schedule - he was outed in an environment that was openly hostile to gays. "I would have come out on my own terms." When all the homophobia happened "it reinforced what I knew."
Overall, though, Congdon is living his life as he wants, describing himself as "very happy." He wants to get more involved in gay rights, whether through volunteering or public speaking. The amount of e-mail he still gets from teens is a testament to how powerful and universal his story is.
"I fell off the face of the Earth and now I am getting my sure footing again. ... I'm taking down the barriers and taking a risk in being more vulnerable. Sometimes you can't be happy unless you take a risk or a chance."